After seven weeks of consultations with parents, students, teachers and others on proposed amendments to the Education Act, Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk released a 10-point plan for Alberta’s education system on
The new initiatives outlined in the plan are organized into three categories:
(1) practical improvements that will start immediately, (2) philosophical approaches that will be integrated into legislation and (3) reviews that will set the stage for future decisions.
- Reduced school bus travel time
- More high school/postsecondary dual-credit programs
- New school designs that include community services
- The construction of playgrounds with new schools
- Administrative changes for charter schools
- Coordination with the federal government on First Nations schools
- Increased parental input
- Changed accountability reporting
- Provincial achievement tests
- Full-day kindergarten
Initiatives related to First Nations schools, community services and playgrounds are positive moves for students and education. Details about reducing school bus travel time, dual-credit programs, parental input and changes to the Accountability Pillar are required before the potential effects of such changes can be known. Introducing technology for learning on busses could be costly and difficult to supervise, and adding more dual-credit programs could distract from important generalized programs of study. Increased parental input and accountability changes for school boards can be beneficial or problematic, depending on how they are implemented.
Reviewing provincial achievement tests (PAT) and full-day kindergarten will only result in more delay when action is preferred. Teachers have long advocated for changes to the PAT program and hoped a motion passed by the legislature in 2009, combined with a campaign promise from Premier Alison Redford, would bring about immediate action. The benefits of full-day kindergarten are conclusive and action on that front is long overdue. (The recommendations from the Alberta Commission on Learning in 2003 for full-day kindergarten and junior kindergarten for at-risk children were among the only ones not accepted by the government.)
A problematic issue for the ATA is the proposed move to expand the roles and freedoms of charter schools. Such a move runs contrary to ATA policy. Teachers are concerned about charter schools that exclude groups of students, recruit and cater to specific students and do not employ teachers who are active members of the Association. The ATA’s views on charter schools are found in the Association’s response to the government’s The Future of Charter Schools in Alberta, available on the ATA website (www.teachers.ab.ca and under Search, type in The Future of Charter Schools in Alberta).
Two major concerns with the 10-point plan are not about what is there but about what isn’t. More than three years have passed since Alberta Education initiated the Setting the Direction program to investigate special needs education in Alberta, and no mention was made of that crucial area. Likewise, Lukaszuk’s plan omits the big picture items discussed by the education community over the past three years as part of the government’s Inspiring Education consultation process.
The proposed Education Act was first introduced in the legislature by then Education Minister Dave Hancock in the spring of 2011. The act was not passed and was pulled from the fall session after Lukaszuk said it required further consultation with parents and stakeholders. It is anticipated that a revised Education Act will be introduced in the spring 2012 legislative session.